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This Week: Top 10 Curveball Interview Questions

Google used to be famous for its brain-teaser interview questions, like “How many cars travel across a bridge each day?” For a long time, many of us in the recruiting world got a kick out of these questions – and some employers even tried to emulate Google’s approach.

But last October, Google’s Senior Vice President of People Operations Laszlo Bock revealed that the questions didn’t really predict employee performance in any meaningful way, and Google has since moved away from asking these kinds of questions.

But if brain teasers don’t predict performance, there’s still a good reason to throw some curveball questions at your candidates every once in a while. A candidate’s answer to an extraordinary question can reveal a lot about their personality, their values, and how they might handle pressure. While this information may not be related to performance, it can help employers make decisions about cultural fit and team dynamics – two very important aspects of any good hire.

With that in mind, we turned to our readers and our network of experts to find out what their best curveball interview questions are. Here, we present our favorites of the bunch, along with commentary from the people who submitted them.

Sandra1. If You Were a Cake, What Kind of Cake Would You Be?

This question is pretty simple, but it allows us to gauge a number of things about our applicants:

Do they have a sense of humor?
Can they think on their feet?
How closely do they listen? We get many interviewees who say “My favorite cake is chocolate.” Well – that wasn’t the question! =)

Sandra Lewis, Worldwide101

Jamal2. If You Owned the Company, What Would You Change?

This is particularly awesome as you get to watch the interviewee think of a logical answer without offending the company.

Of course when the question is asked, I’m looking for a genuine answer. This question will sometimes decide who is hired and who isn’t. The employee should understand this is business and it is cutthroat. If they see a flaw in something, they should speak up.

Jamal Asskoumi, CastleSmart

Dirk3. How Did You Land Your Last Job?

In an industry obsessed with what happened postmortem at the candidate’s last job, I find that asking how a candidate landed their previous job provides better insights.

I use a variation of “How did you come to work at …” and insert the company from the resume.

Variations of the question include:
1. Who helped you the most in landing that position?
2. How did you land the interview?
3. Who was your advocate from the initial interview?

Most candidates are not expecting this question, and it does not raise their defenses. Keeping a candidate relaxed is a good idea, and more importantly, the answer will show the candidate’s attribution bias – who receives credit for landing the job? The candidate or someone else?

The question appears to demonstrate interest in a candidate’s achievement-based behavior, which makes the conversation appear less about rejection criteria and more about relationship-building. This creates reciprocity with the candidate, which may make them more compliant moving forward.

The answer also produces insights on the candidate’s ability to share a personal story wrapped inside a professional context.

Lastly, the answer allows me to passively collect names of potential referrals with a warm context for my pipeline.

Dirk Spencer, Resume Psychology

marlon4. If You Were Selected to Be the First Person to Go to Mars, but You Couldn’t Come Back, Would You Go?

This one is topical with all of the talk about Mars travel, and it also tells you about a person’s values. Do they value adventure, legacy, and taking risks, or do they have equally good reasons based in family, valuing their place on the Earth, etc. to stay?

Marlon Heimerl, Corporate Art Force

Dave5. Why Should I Choose You Over the Other Five People I Am Interviewing for This Position?

This question is fun because it requires the interviewee to do something that is counter to our norms, and that is to promote ourselves over another person.

If a person does this easily without hesitation, it is likely that the norm is lost on them and they will continue to self-promote too much once hired.

If a person wavers too much or cannot answer the question, you have tapped into their lack of self-confidence.

If the response has any sense of entitlement – i.e., “Because I worked hard to get to this point…” – they will be a pain throughout their stay.

As for the person who acknowledges the others’ likely strengths, discusses a strength they have that will directly translate into value for the
company, and indicates a willingness to collaborate once hired – there, you have a winner.

Dr. Dave Popple, Psynet Group

Katie6. On a Scale of 1-10, How Weird Are You?

This question always puts a smile on our interviewees’ faces and completely throws them off guard. We love the initial reaction when we ask the question to see if they have a sense of humor. Davinci Virtual encourages its team members to be unique and not be afraid to be themselves. Being weird tells us that the candidate is creative, is more open-minded and accepting, and will absolutely fit in with our positive atmosphere.

Katie Julian, Davinci Virtual

Kevin7. Have You Ever Lied in Your Life?

This is a way for me to assess someone’s honesty and how comfortable someone feels in their own skin. If they say “No, I am always honest,” then I know they are lying. Who hasn’t lied before?

If they say “Yes, I have,” then I know the person is honest, and I am more likely to trust them.

I know it’s a weird and random question, but brutal honesty is a big deal for me. I want my employees to be comfortable and honest enough to tell me when something goes wrong and not hide it, because hiding the problems will only make them worse.

Kevin Adkins, Kenmore Law Group

Jennifer8. Describe a Time When You Knew You Were Right, but the Majority of Your Coworkers Were Thinking Differently

We continue by asking, “How would you, outnumbered, convince the others to see the correct answer?” This lets us know how a candidate functions as a team member. Are they vocal and persuasive? Or do they sit by and let mistakes happen?

Jennifer Magas, Magas Media Consultants, LLC

Nadine9. Can You Teach Me Something I Don’t Know?

This question helps the interviewer see how this person can think on their feet, and it also gives a glimpse into the candidate’s reasoning process as they try to determine what the interviewer doesn’t know.

For the interviewee, the question is a chance to showcase something about themselves that they might not ever have had the opportunity to demonstrate.

A great answer could be, “I can teach you how to make my mother’s chicken cutlets.” This is great because you have to assume something that the interviewer doesn’t know, and how can you really do that? One sure-fire way would be to talk about something that is very personal, like I suggested, but also something that is appealing and interesting!

Nadine Varca Bilotta, CompleteCandidate

Jen10. What Would Our Company Be Crazy Not to Do in the Next Quarter?

The answers to this question are very polarizing, from the unprepared “uhms” and “I don’t knows” to the well-researched, meaningful ideas from people we end up bringing in for a second interview. The goal of this question is to uncover which candidates actually know about our company and the ad industry as a whole.

Jen Salamandick, Kick Point, Inc.

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